YORK needs a major new visitor attraction, a proper bus station and World Heritage status for its walled city.

These are some of the key suggestions contained in a major new report published today, A New Vision For York.

The discussion document, commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, says the city could "move up a league" and become an even greater European city.

The city should embrace a strategy of "smart" growth, allowing the local economy to develop while ensuring that all citizens benefit from more affordable housing, better public transport and a wider range of employment possibilities.

After comparing York with Bath, Chester, Exeter and Norwich, it suggests that the city is not doing enough to fulfil its potential as the gateway to Yorkshire for tourists. It says York is short on attractions, and needs a new visitor attraction, possibly science-based.

The document, commissioned by the foundation on behalf of Without Walls, York's Local Strategic Partnership, is intended to stimulate debate about the city's future. It was due to be discussed at a Without Walls conference at the Merchant Taylors' Hall this afternoon.

A consultancy firm, URBED, talked to York residents and organisations over a period of six months before producing the report, which profiles York and offers ideas on how it might develop in the future.

The authors say their underlying message is that York could achieve sustainable growth beyond current planned levels and tackle its underlying problems of a lack of affordable housing, traffic congestion and social exclusion.

"With a healthy economy and low unemployment, the city comes out as a 'good average', when measured against other comparable British historic cities, but it could 'move up a league' and become an even greater European city."

The report recommends that York's green spaces should be protected and enhanced and better design standards should be required for new developments in the city.

It notes York's good fortune in having substantial opportunities for development on brownfield sites, such as York Central behind the railway station.

It suggests York's Science City initiative has been highly successful in helping to replace lost manufacturing jobs.

"But not all of York's citizens have benefited from the city's prosperity, with a fifth of the population still classed as living in poverty.

"York has a justified reputation as a pioneer in certain aspects of environmental improvement, for example in providing dedicated cycle lanes, a pedestrianised city centre and Park & Ride facilities.

"However, York's citizens would still consider better public transport, and a bus station, to be a top priority."

URBED has suggested 25 outcomes that could be used as the basis for a new vision for York, with some deliberately more contentious than others, to stimulate discussion.

They include a significantly-upgraded transport system with a bus station, a new medium-sized venue for the performing arts, new college facilities on a new model, with more provision based in the community, and an expanded evening economy and better nightlife.

Dr Nicholas Falk, the principal author, said: "Our research found that while York has done well in many respects, it has the potential to be an even greater European city.

"However, if this is to benefit the existing community, York needs to be pioneering ideas of 'Smart' growth in the UK - with sustainable solutions to housing and transport issues - as it has done in the past, for example with Park & Ride."

Updated: 10:16 Thursday, March 20, 2003